My Glorious Original CD Release

This year my mother turned 93. Besides having a full career as a university administer and raising 3 sons, sometimes as a single parent, she aspired to be a concert pianist and a painter. She pursued music hard and furiously until she reached 40, and attained a high level of proficiency that included advanced piano concertos, jazz transcriptions and Chopin. She then made a choice, and focused on painting and drawing and produced an amazing amount of original oils and watercolors that included abstracts, landscapes and figures. She shared them with family and friends and was forever modest about her talent and her output. Clearly the joy was in the doing. Eventually many of these were discarded and only the favorites survive as heirlooms and testimony to her passion. I have no recordings of her playing the piano.

I get the same joy from playing and writing music. Most of my original music was created as themes and soundtracks for educational and documentary television shows. Some of them survive in the collections of the NFB but outside of my personal collection, there were hundreds of shows that were destroyed with the passing of the networks and the producers that hired me to do them.

So what does this have to do with my self produced CD Good Fair World? Everything. Why bother publishing or mass producing anything if nobody is going to see it? Of the 1000 copies I made in 2008, I still have 600 and the format now fading fast. Cars still have CD players, but smartphones and cloud services now provide most of our music and it won't be long before CD's disappear all together.

I knew that would happen, and so I didn't invest much money or time into the production of the music- so arguably it would have done better if I'd put $20K into studio musicians and another $10K on promotion. But I wanted to see how well the songs would do by themselves with just me singing them and playing the piano, so the project only took 3 days to record, and I had it professionally mastered before putting it out there. I also put in on itunes where it will be presumably offered forever, or at least until the death of Apple and MP3 files.

But really, very few people have heard it in spite of my best efforts to tell people about it and use social media and live touring to help it along. Does it suck? Do I suck? Nobody who actually has heard it has ever told me that. I know there are better singers and better song writers than me but that is not the issue. I am a tree falling alone in the woods wondering if I exist. And I can't help but compare my urge to be heard and be recognized to my mother's journey that was completely free of such vanity.

So I shall be content with the joy of being able to play and compose and write and not complain about anything. If my melodies and words are meant to be heard than so be it. If they pass into oblivion I shall not consider them failures. But if you do read this, please check out my songs on itunes and drop me a line. I'd love to know what you think of them.

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Phillipine’s Mugging Scam

A couple of nights ago I received an email asking me to verify an expansion of my apple icloud account. It was the middle of the night, and normally I am aware enough to know Apple doesn’t do this through email. So I typed in my password and hit return and fell asleep. It looked like this.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.35.28 AM

Yesterday my wife and I flew to Edmonton to visit family for thanksgiving. As we taxied into the terminal on landing, I switched my phone on and received half a dozen messages from family and friends that my email account had been hacked. This is what people received from my email with my name in the body and signing at the end:

“I hope this email finds you well!

I could not inform everyone about our family trip to Manila Philippines The Vacation was successful, but our journey has turned sour we were mugged last night at gun point and all valuables were stolen, (cash, bank cards and mobile phone, it was a brutal experience we went to shop before leaving to the airport since our return flight soon, quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for us but looking on the bright side we weren’t seriously hurt or injured, we are still alive so that is what’s important and luckily we had my passport in my hotel room to get us home.

I need your help financially to get back home, I need to settle some outstanding hotel bills and also take a cab to the airport. I am really sorry i am asking this of you, believe me I don’t want to ask I would rather take care of it my self but I cant, I have contacted my bank, but the best they can do is to mail a new card which will take 7 to 10 days to get here. All I need right now is $1950 , If you can help that would be great and I promise to make the refund once I get back home.

Please let me know if you can help me

Regards

Jan Randall”

Horrified, I tried to change my Apple account passwords, but Apple blocked me from doing this because it’s software had detected suspicious behavior. As the replies continued, I realized the hackers were using my address book to send these messages out. I cancelled my afternoon rehearsal and headed to an Apple genius bar at a nearby mall where they gave me immediate attention to the problem. This was a relief because when I tried calling Apple on the way to the store, I was put through a series of questions by their automated phone system that was advertising a free Caribean cruise. My feeling at the time was that the same people running the cruise giveaway had hacked into Apple’s phone system, a theory that may well be true.

To reset your password, the Apple technician needed to email a link to me. Since the reason I was there in the first place was that Apple had blocked my email, it was an idiotic question. Worse, the only solution was to get Apple to send me a password reset using a non-apple email account. I’m still waiting for the Gmail message to let me do this. Meanwhile I cancelled my credit card and ordered a new one. As soon as I get my apple mail back online, I will write to everybody explaining what had happened with a full Mea Culpa.

Goals, Detours, and Side Trips

Thought I might reflect this morning on my life’s work as a musician. This includes where I have been, where i am now, where i seem to be headed and where i would like to go. And perhaps I will learn something from this and be able to share it with you whether you are in music or not.

My first paid gig as a musician was a cartoon of cigarettes and a case of beer for the band which was not bad considering we were all 16 and playing at the local community hall for a free neighborhood dance. We did cover songs that were popular at the time like Midnight Hour and Devil with a Blue Dress. We had learned our blues licks from the likes of John Mayal meaning we knew nothing about the history of the music we were playing. I had learned a piano solo from Get Outa My Life Woman off of the Paul Butterfield’s East West album that was pretty jazz infused for a Chicago style record. And aside from six monthes of lessons learning how to play off of a lead sheet from a polka band leader i could barely read or write music. That said, i could work out how to play anything by ear, could recognize the notes and chords in my head, and helped the other players correct their mistakes for which that convincingly pretended to hate me. But even with perfect pitch, i had terrible self esteem because i knew what great classical and jazz pianists were capable of, and didn’t think I’d ever develop a great left hand for the keyboard or be able to figure out notation. Because of this, becoming a professional musician was off the table. None of my friends believed this, and often told me so.

My mother was my first teacher, and she gave me the basics as an infant. She was a brilliant pianist and daily played Bach, Chopin and transcriptions of Dave Brubeck and Errol Garner. When I was in high school joining and quitting rock bands thoughout the city, she took me to meet the great Tommy Banks to get his advice on my future. He had a band at his nightclub The Embers and his bass player was there a young guy named David Foster. Tommy listened to me play some Andre Previn I had worked out from listening to my mother, and then asked me to jam some blues with David on bass. He told me after that I was good enough to play in his club, which I did not at all believe. He then advised me to learn how to read music.

After high school I was offered to join a band made up of musicians I had known and played with from around the neighborhood. I wanted to become a scientist by then, and thought what could it hurt to take a year off and have some fun. We all wrote songs in this band, and we hired a local DJ who was well known and wanted to be our manager. Our sets were an eclectic mix of folk rock and celtic and we worked out elaborate 5 part harmonies for everything. Around town we became pretty popular, and our manager worked out a deal that we could do two of our own songs in concert with orchestras if we toured with a concert version of excerpts from Jesus Christ Superstar which I absolutely hated. Our fame increased, and we traveled to big concert halls across Canada and the US but I decided to quit in the spring and enrolled at university to become an honors biochemistry student. I was barely 19 and had learned that the music business was somewhat corrupt and full of pressures to do exactly the opposite of what you wanted in order to become famous and make money. Our manager and my friends felt betrayed, but so did I.

As a science student I was allowed to choose an arts elective and I decided to study harmony. I moved into the basement of a house with a friend- it had cement floors and a two piece bathroom. We put mattresses on the floor and set up a stereo turntable system with a board that was sitting on the huge speakers and our records filed underneath. The two students renting the house charged us $30 a month each and let us use the kitchen and the shower upstairs. My roomate was a high school friend who was studying painting. His father was the Dean of Arts and John was rebelling against the higher status of his family in the community. He hated money, and would crumple it up into balls and throw it on the floor before he went to bed. Joni Mitchell released Blue and it was usually playing in our little pad. I hung out with John’s new friends who were all budding artists, and conversations often went til dawn. Calculus class at 8am Mondays was always a blur. My science marks suffered even though I had received an honors grade in Calculus in high school. But harmony was a breeze, and I loved it.

I had savings from my year as a musician, and continued to play around town as a solo entertainer. The highlight of my year was opening for Bruce Cockburn at a local folk club. There was a house full of pianos three houses down that was part of the universities music department. I was granted permission to practice there after showing my registration in the harmony course. One day I met the music professor who used the house for teaching. I was unaware she was even there, and I was stomping on the floor playing a boogie woogie style blues and she appeared at my door red faced from her studio directly beneath me. We exchanged words, and I reluctantly moved to another room in the house and took my energy down a notch. Little did I know that this teacher Sandra Munn would take me on as a student the following year, and ultimately change my life.

The Age of Individualism

Thanks to the internet, and blogs, and clouds, and you tube anyone and everyone can express themselves as writers, musicians, and artists. Wehave entered the age of the talented amateur, and an abundance information and expression that is ever increasing exponentially. The people and companies that used to be gatekeepers at radio stations, record companies and publishing houses are in the process of being replaced by viral trending.

We have been used to following artistic trends as a herd, shepherded by marketing machines and peer pressure. With an ever growing supply of incredible music and literature available for free on demand, we will be diluting our common reference points. I am not saying this is good or bad, but I am definitely saying it will continue to be different. And not just in how it affects our conversations at parties.

Culture is usually defined by the things we share in common including customs and artistic style. The age of individualism will play by a new set of rules.

Jan Randall Oct. 2 2014

 

Mojo

Mojo began as a Cuban seasoning made from garlic and oranges and somehow somewhere evolved to become an international symbol for good fortune. Music is also a universal phenomenum that freely crosses the borders of culture and politics, and the combination of music and blessings perhaps began when mothers learned that singing for their children brought peace and happiness into a home. Many musicians love to create myths about themselves, and when Jimmie Smith sang “Got My Mojo Workin’ in 1965, it became true for him and helped his career out in a big way, so it makes sense to sing about good luck in order to make it happen.

My own music career started in the 60’s at a pizza place called Giuseppi’s and my first gig there was a combination of playing with my band Manna, and making pizza. I had to time my breaks so that the food wouldn’t burn, and get off the stage in time to serve patrons. Some nights this wouldn’t work out, and I had to make a choice or lose my job and get kicked out of the band. So I decided to become a musician, and gave up making pizza to earn my bread with Manna.

Manna is also defined in the dictionary as “Something of value that a person receives unexpectedly.” It’s the kind of thing that might happen if you can get your mojo workin’. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like the beginning of much, but I believe it is from the truth that the best lies are spun as well as some of the worst jokes.

1980 was a year of magic for me and it started when I was hired to play piano and be musical director for a Second City review at a nightclub in Edmonton called Lucifer’s. I got to work with Catherine O’Hara who was moonlighting from her day job as a star of SCTV to direct our live comedy revue, and it was the beginning of my connection to the world scene of improvisational comedy which remains a strong thread the fates have woven into my life’s path. That year I also got to be one of two Turkish border guards busting Abbott and Costello for hashish on the third season of SCTV.

Our Second City dinner show was followed by a music act that changed once a week. These acts included Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and a young rocker from Vancouver named Bryan Adams who was waiting for his first big break. I even had Bryan Adams buy me a scotch, and I think I tried to give him some tips on how to improve his songs. Six months later his first record exploded onto the world scene and I couldn’t believe how quickly someone could move so far from complete obscurity. It was a magical surprise out of nowhere.

In 1990 I had a similar encounter in Santa Monica with Colm Meany. I was playing piano for a Second City review there, and I noticed Colm drinking by himself at a bar one night after our show. At the time, he was a regular extra on Star Trek, Next Generation. I went up to him and said, “You must be a great actor, because I always want them to give you some lines!” He laughed, bought me a scotch, and sure enough, within six months his character Miles O’Brian was picked up as a lead on Deep Space Nine, and he started getting big roles in movies like The Commitments.

Ten years later I was playing piano for a weekly comedy show in another nightclub in downtown Edmonton called the Sidetrack. Another decade had past, and it was time again to get my mojo workin’. Some of the actors that were turning up for this show had decided to go to L. A. to see if they could meet some people, maybe get a big break. On a semi-drunk impulse I decided to tell one of them, Ron Pederson, about Bryan Adams and Colm Meany. I explained that in order to pass my incredibly good mojo on to him, he would have to buy me a scotch and allow me to give him some lame-assed advice.

Not surprisingly it worked- many actors love attention- it’s part of why they became actors in the first place. Deep down I thought that I was just conning Ron into buying me a free drink. When Ron went flew to L.A. he did some skit comedy at a comedy club as a kind of showcase along with the other five actors from Edmonton. In the audience was SCTV alumni Martin Short, and out of all of the talent that was there that night, it was Ron that really impressed him. After the show, they hung out for a bit, and Martin decided to introduce him to the producer of MAD TV. An audition was arranged, and Ron was hired.

When Ron returned to Edmonton, he acknowledged that our little mojo game had mysteriously turned out to be real. The other actors tried to buy me scotches, but I had to tell them that the next magic scotch would occur around the year 2010. Though this news was disappointing, it gave an honest edge to the story. The legend of once a decade mojo was no shallow scam just to get free drinks or claim credit for the success of others.

It is now 2005, and over the summer I was hired to play piano for a comedy show that reenacted Ron’s trip to Hollywood and his meeting with Martin Short. It was written by a group called Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie and it involved puppets, a green screen and songs about its theme, which was about a complete and utter lack of mojo. The show was called “All Washed Up” and centered on how everyone but the Three Dead Trolls seemed to be making it. So the point wasn’t so much that luck was passed on to friends like Ron, but that it was never passed back. Martin Short tells Ron in this show that they should go meet a big shot friend of his named Dick Blasucci. I had never heard of Dick Blasucci, but an Internet search confirmed that Dick was the MAD TV producer that Martin had introduced Ron to. To my amazement, GOOGLE also brought up a search result that had my name right next to Dick Blasucci’s. This was because Dick Blasucci was the other Turkish border guard in the SCTV skit I had done in 1980.

I thought it was me that was lucky when I picked Ron Pederson as the candidate to validate my mojo theory. Chances are he would have made it without my blarney mojo story, and it felt like I was just cashing in on his good fortune. This cynical way of looking at it fails to explain how Dick Blasucci weaseled his way into both ends of my story. It couldn’t have been easy. Meanwhile Arlo Guthrie, a completely forgotten force in my life, resurfaced by way of a genealogy chart sent to me from my Uncle Aaron. In it, was the surprise that Arlo was my third cousin.

I found out about my blood connection to Arlo Guthrie shortly after the Ron Pederson mojo was spent, a result of reconciliation between my father and his estranged family from Philadelphia. Perhaps the energy spent keeping me and Arlo apart all these years was the other half of the same force that caused me to keep reconnecting with other people against all conceivable odds. Why sure, that makes sense, because a decade before Manna got together, my family moved to Edmonton from Philadelphia, and there was a rift in relations that kept me from knowing who else was in the family. That’s what must have caused all this.

In the year following the news from Uncle Aaron’s chart, I was invited to a cousin’s reunion in San Francisco. We all went to see Arlo in concert, and hung out with him for a bit backstage. One of the cousins said to Arlo, “Hey, Jan here is a musician too.” Arlo looked at me, sized me up with my short hair, and said, “You should grow your hair long.” He also forgave me for moving to Canada when I was nine.

I believe if we hadn’t moved from Philadelphia, I would have met Arlo way back when and kept my hair long, Maybe then Brian Adams’ first album would have bombed, Colm Meany would have never moved beyond beaming crew aboard the Enterprise, Ron Pederson would be waiting on tables in L.A., and the year 2010 would just be another ordinary year for everyone. Perhaps that’s stretching things a bit too far, but if you’ve ever listened to Alice’s Restaurant, you would know that some things sound exaggerated even when they are told straight up. For now, I think I’ll just see if I can arrange for Dick Blasucci to let me buy him a scotch.

 

Disabilities

DisabilityI love this picture I found on Facebook today- it’s so true. When I was in the second city touring company out of Toronto 33 years ago, i severed a nerve in one of my fingers and had to play with my left hand in a cast for 6 weeks with two fingers sticking out. I remember the heartbreak of thinking I would never be as good as I had dreamed of. That finger is still numb, but after I got over my fear of failure, I used it to spur me on, and quite possibly, that is further than I would have gone without the accident. Oliver Sacks talks a lot about people who gain through loss, like the artist who went colour-blind and discovered a richer world for his art in black and white. So thanks for this picture, and even if I can’t do a chin-up to save my soul or outplay the world with my fabulous left hand, please excuse me. I have to go practice the piano now.

Meeting Randy Newman

Randy Newman

Some of you might remember the song “It’s Money that I Love” When it came out, I was already a huge Randy Newman fan (he had me when Judy Collins released I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today. So I thought, hey, maybe he would be amused if I sent him a fan letter with a cheque for one dollar? Even if he didn’t laugh, I could get his autograph when he endorsed the cheque to cash it, and then I’d have this priceless thing, and he’d have my dollar. Instead he sent me an autographed picture with the message “Dear Jan, Next time please send American money. Thanks anyway. Randy Newman”.

Ten years later, my friend Holger Peterson who had seen this hanging in my recording studio offers me his backstage ID so that I can meet Randy after his performance at the Edmonton Folk Festival. So I take the picture with his cheque off the wall and take it to meet him in person, a dream come true. Sure enough, after his set, he’s standing by a fence alone, collecting his thoughts, and security let’s me through to go up to talk to him. He sees me coming, and not feeling sociable, he tries to get away but there is no way out. I introduce myself and show him the picture, and he says “Hey, I REMEMBER this!” He then got really friendly with me, and we ended up talking about how much we hated watching the Barney show with our kids. Before I left, I offered him the cheque back in case he needed the money. He smiled and said “That’s OK Jan, you can keep it….”